Story last updated at 10/30/2013 - 6:13 pm
The following story takes place Aug. 15, 1990 in Adams Inlet.
James and I followed his tracks for a quarter mile along the margin between tidal flat and forest. The tide was out and the tracks were fresh - less than two or three hours old. Then the tracks headed toward the tidal flats, no longer parallel to the beach. At low tide we could see the blanket of fine silt that the glacial river had thrown down over the bay. The silt surface was as slick as axle grease. The large tracks of this great brown bear ended abruptly. He had slipped, slipped on the mud. The tidal flat was steep enough that when he had slipped, he had slid 30 feet. Long claw marks revealed his struggle to arrest himself and end his slide. He had gotten up and walked up into the woods. We laughed, James and I, upon seeing where the bear slipped on the mud.
We hiked a little farther and found a small clearing just above the beach. We pitched our tent and gathered firewood for a great bonfire. We also retrieved a cache of food and supplies that we had hung in a tree ten days earlier. We leaned the rifle against our gear. The early evening sun was two hours away from setting. We napped in the tent.
Then we heard the crashing in the trees and brush. We jumped up and ran to the rifle and knelt behind our packs and gear. Something very big had approached our camp. We didn't see the beast, but speculated that it must have been a moose or bear.
We kept the rifle close and gathered more firewood. No more crashing came from the woods, but we began to hear the low howling of wolves, maybe a mile away. Our bush pilot would land in the bay in the morning.
Around 10:30 we built a fire. The sun was about to go down. The waves started to grow, crashing, drowning all other noise. Then, around midnight the waves stopped and we became aware of more sounds around us. The wolves continued, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. We also heard an occasional heavy thud, what sounded like a footfall in the woods.
After midnight everything went quiet. We were camped in a clearing, surrounded by a wall of trees. We had dragged some large trunks into camp and added these to the fire. We stared into the fire and then into the woods. Then I heard it: a steady shuffling in the woods, something moving toward us.
I looked at James to see if he had heard it too. He slowly looked away from the trees, then at me, and nodded. The rifle was leaning by my side. I picked it up and slowly brought it to rest across my lap. The gun was cold. We listened closely. I wondered if I had heard a definite footstep among the shuffling. I drew the bolt back and let a shell into the action. I slowly pushed the bolt forward and clicked the safety to fire. This process was louder than I had anticipated, and the shuffling stopped as soon as I had clicked off the safety. I looked at James again. He had picked up a flashlight and was pointing it in the direction of the sound, though he had not yet turned it on.
James turned on the flashlight. The sound now started near the edge of the beam. James scanned the woods. The light diffused quickly. We could only see a few yards into the forest. I suddenly felt very small, like the light of our little flashlight. James turned off the light, and we listened. The shuffling appeared to be coming closer. James shined the light into the woods again. We could hear the sound, but saw no movement. As James scanned the entire tree line again, I followed with the rifle, keeping the center of the beam just in the open sights.
Finally, I spoke softly. My voice startled both of us. We decided to stand up and get a better view of the forest. We stepped away from the small circle of light that was our camp, and began moving toward the trees. We heard the rustling again. Something seemed to be walking only a few feet away. James flipped on the flashlight and I trained the gun on the sound. Nothing. By now we had walked well into the woods. For a moment I looked back at our fire. I wondered if we would see something approaching our camp. Perhaps it was just waiting for us to leave the fire.
With the light on, we searched the woods around us in a complete circle. Nothing appeared. We stood there, frozen, still hearing the sound. Suddenly, we heard the sound right behind us, and we spun around to see what was there. James trained the light on the ground a few feet away. Here they were, moving toward us: hundreds of frogs, perhaps thousands. The creature of our imagination had turned into frogs, rustling the leaves of the forest floor.
I put the rifle on safety and unloaded the shell from the chamber. Later that night, I got out of the tent. I looked toward the north. The northern lights were on. I woke James and he came out to see. Green and blue curtains undulated across the sky. I strained to hear them. I had never seen them before. I thought they would make a sound. The only sound was the gentle lapping of small waves on the beach. I imagined a thousand frogs all looking up through the trees, watching the northern lights. I wondered if a mud-caked bear, somewhere in the woods, also looked up into the northern sky.